The referendum in 2016 stunned the entire population, affecting citizens in all areas of society; mainly because all citizens were left in a position of uncertainty – including those of European spouses.
In 2019 after much delay and many postponements, although the position of uncertainty has still not been solved, some light has been shed on the immigration status of certain groups in society. Namely, the European spouses of British citizens, will no longer find themselves in a position of vulnerability.
European Citizens before Brexit
Since the introduction of free movement, European citizens resided in the UK without any reservations. The referendum ended this ease of residency, and most European citizens were faced with the reality of having to regularise their immigration status.
In order to regularise their status, they had to fall into one of the following categories:
- Family member of a British citizen
- Students, with a comprehensive medical insurance
After having resided in the UK for a period of 5 years, European nationals could always apply for Permanent Residency and a document certifying this. Nevertheless, most European nationals were not aware that such a document existed, because they were never in a position where they required one. As soon as the referendum took place, most European nationals discovered how to regularise their status.
Although many were able to regularise their status, many applications were rejected. This was in the case of applicant’s who had not been working during their residence in the UK. Particularly in the case of Spouses and Partners, who had been supported by their British partners and had not been in employment. In order to qualify under the “self-sufficient” category applicants must have possessed a comprehensive medical insurance; something most European nationals did not have, as they had been covered by the European Health Insurance.
European Citizens after Brexit
After the Withdrawal Agreement after Brexit was publish, it became clear that all of the promises that had been made by the government, were empty promises. Nevertheless, the introduction of the settled status scheme has been very favourable to European citizens. This has made the acquired of permanent residence, now known as “settled status” a much easier process.
In order to qualify for “settled status”, applicants only need to be residing in the UK by the 31 December 2020; the date that the UK will be leaving the European Union. There is no longer the requirement to provide evidence of medical insurance or comprehensive financial documents. This means that Spouses and Partners who have not been working over the years, will continue to be protected. In the case that they have not lived here for 5 continuous years they will not qualify for settled status, but they can still apply for pre-settled status. That way they still do not suddenly lose their status in the UK.
The EU Settlement Scheme
The settled status can be applied for through a phone app. The Applicant’s will need to provide an electronic version of their official ID document and complete a brief online form. Applicant’s will also need to provide proof of address. This can be an official letter of correspondence received at their address, dated within at least 6 months.
The primary downside of the settled status is that it is not clear whether this status is retrospective. The previous Permanent residency status could be based on any period of 5 years residency in the UK. Once 12 months had passed from the date it was granted, the Applicant could apply for naturalisation. So for example, if on the 30-05-2019 the Applicant who had been residing in the UK for 10 years made an application for Permanent Residency, and they were deemed to have qualified for permanent residency in 2014, they could immediately make an application for naturalisation (provided they continued to meet all of the requirements). It is not clear whether the settled status will adhere to the same.
Previously Applicants would receive a physical document proving their immigration status; now they will be provided with an electronic confirmation of their status.